I met Abby through our mutual membership in the Contemporary Romance Writers of America.Last October, Abby wrote an article for USA Today featuring romance authors who were impacted first hand with breast cancer. She was kind enough to include me in that article then, and has been kind enough to hang out and tell us a little of her story.
- Thanks so much for visiting with me today, Abby. Tell us a little about yourself.
Thanks for having me, Jim. And I want to send out a who-hoo to anyone out there who has been touched by cancer – whether as a survivor or a caretaker, parent, child, friend… it doesn’t matter.
I’m pretty much your average 42 year old. I’m a romance novelist and technical writer, chauffeur, chef, loving mom and wife, community volunteer, and amateur singing sensation. I would add housekeeper to the list but I suck at that. Thankfully, my husband does it more than me.
- We have two sons and it was gut-wrenching keeping our cool when we told them about Nancy’s diagnosis. Can you talk about what you did to tell your children?
Two sons, too, but they were young. I said I was sick and had to take medicine that would make me tired and my hair would fall out. But they shouldn’t worry, because no medicine they take would make their hair fall out. We spoke of treatments like they were normal, day-to-day activities.
Telling my mom was really, really hard. I know as a parent, I would take pain and illness away from my children if I could.
- Nancy was invasive ductile carcinoma in the right breast. What was your diagnosis?
I’m happy to say I don’t even remember the details of the type. It was estrogen receptive positive, stage II, and right breast. I think the words in situ were in there somewhere…
- Undergoing cancer treatment is scary. Was there one fear that kept you up at night more than others?
My approach was very matter-of-fact. This is what it is, this is what I have to do now, this is what I have to do next. It helped that my type of cancer was the most popular one, so to speak, with proven protocols for treatment and a high rate of success. I was more annoyed than worried.
- Can you talk about some of the side effects of your treatment?
I had three that were sort of surprising. My last few chemo treatments were hell on my blood cells, so I had to get a shot the day after to help them recover. A side effect of the shot was bone pain. I wasn’t sure what that meant until I was driving a few hours later and suddenly it felt like someone had punched me in the ribs. It didn’t last long.
The next was the fact that your hair falls out. Now, I know you’re thinking, Abby, that’s one of the most common side effects of chemo! And that’s true, but I never considered that ALL your hair falls out. ALL. YOUR. HAIR. Let me tell you, it was nice not shaving my arm pits for a year, but having sweat drip into my eyes because of the lack of brows was annoying.
The third was that my boring bone-straight hair grew back curly! I had the most gorgeous hair for about 18 months.
- Cancer treatment can be a long, arduous time, but it can have its lighter moments also. Do you have a story from that time that left everyone smiling?
Hehhehheh – like the time when I picked up my kid from daycare and my prosthetic boob slipped out of my bra, slid down my stomach, and fell onto the floor in front of me?
- Love it! On a more serious note, what would you tell a friend who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer?
Not a damn thing unless she asked.
Seriously. The sheer number of people who wanted to share their stories with me – whether it was personal, something they heard, or whatever happened to a relative – was overwhelming. The only helpful one was my neighbor, who offered her niece, an oncology nurse, to answer any questions for me. It’s like when people find out you’re pregnant and want to share their baby stories.
I mean, of course I would tell her it sucked and all that, but advice-wise? If she’s my friend, I’m assuming she knows I had cancer. She’ll ask if she needs to.
Now, if a friend came to me and said a relative was just diagnosed and if I’d be willing to talk to her, I’d say yes and make sure she has my phone number. But I’ve never been called by the relative.
- Thanks so much for visiting today and being willing to share your story. Before we go, is there anything else you would like to share?
My first book, Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy?, is a silent shout-out to cancer survivors. One of my characters is in the recovery stage of breast cancer. We went through the recovery together.
So many times we try to shoulder our burdens alone. Tell people what’s going on. It’s not something to be ashamed of. Let people help you. I had a ton of friends make dinner and send me books. Different family members sat with me while I went through chemo. My hairdresser shaved my head and didn’t charge me for it.
Consider showing off your baldness. I had spent a lot of time debating what wig to buy when one of my coworkers said to me, “You know, nobody is going to care if you’re bald.” She was SO right. (I even posted something on our electronic bulletin board at work saying to check out my new haircut.) When I was out shopping, strangers would give me encouraging words and nods of acknowledgement. One woman even told me how to scratch the itch that felt like it was two inches under my skin! (And as weird as it sounds, it’s to hit your skin, not actually scratch.) Now, I lived in Florida and it was summertime, so I would occasionally put on a hat and I *always* wore sunscreen (the kind that sprays).
Blog about it on a dedicated cancer blog. After my diagnosis, I had so many people calling me and I had to repeat my story over and over and over. After that, I was like, here’s my blog address. Read it. If you still want to chat, then call me. It helped a lot, plus it let my friends and family keep up with me without cancer being the only thing we talked about.
Don’t let anyone pressure your partner into going bald. I can’t tell you how much it annoyed me when I found out people were telling my husband that he should shave his head in a show of support. He might not have been the one undergoing treatment, but it was affecting him as much as it was me, and I didn’t want him bald (to tell the truth, I think he would have looked a bit odd). He showed me his support in so many more ways.
Now, if your spouse wants to go bald, I say go for it. And I understand there are also different situations for all families. Having him bald did not work for us.
And – www.chemoangels.com.
Thanks for letting me share my story!
The pleasure is ours, Abby. Your insight and wit are as encouraging as they are empowering. If you’d like to check out Abby’s books, why don’t you pay her website a visit at http://www.abigailsharpe.com/
Have a great day everyone, and until next time, tailwinds!